The Best Defense

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: Chips the brave

By Rebecca Frankel

Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

"It was added that Chips, three years old, 'had already met Mr. Churchill and General Eisenhower and was anxious to bite Hitler" -- NY Times, January 23, 1944

There have been, throughout history, dogs who've received notice for their outstanding service during times of war (many of whom we'll be meeting in this series). Indeed, World War II history is chock full of war dog stories. According to H.I. Brock's article "Mentioned in Dispatches" which ran in 1944, war dog activity on the front was regularly reported in Army dispatches. But only a fair few have actually been awarded medals of valor for their heroics and Chips is one such soldier.

According to war-dog lore, Chips, a shepherd, husky and collie mix, was donated to the Army by his owner, Edward J. Wren of Pleasantville, NY. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American Kennel Club, along with a group called "Dogs for Defense," appealed to the general public, asking folks to offer their pets for service in the war effort. Chips, 3-years-old at the time, was sent to Front Royal for training as a sentry dog in 1942.

But the heart-stopping events that launched this war dog into the front-page headlines took place on the beaches of Sicily:

Chips had gone ashore ... with Pvt. John R. Rowell holding his leash. When enemy machine gunners opened fire on our men from a camouflaged pillbox, Chips was let go. He charged."

According to the NY Times, on Nov. 19 1944 Chips was awarded the Silver Star (and the Purple Heart) for "courageous action in single-handedly eliminating a dangerous machine-gun nest and causing the surrender of its crew." 

Other accounts of the attack say that "[Chips] sustained minor injuries including scalp wounds and powder burns, "... showing that a vicious fight had taken place inside the hut and that the soldiers had attempted to shoot the dog with a revolver."

However, later the War Department launched an inquiry into these awards since Army regulations forbid giving such decorations to animals. One article reports that Chips's medals were taken away, and that no other "military dog has received official decoration since."

But, perhaps Chips wasn't quite so disappointed. At least his owner, Mrs. Edward J. Wren of Pleasantville, N.Y., didn't think so:

[Wren] said she thought dogs ought to have medals, but she had a feeling Chips himself would have preferred a pound of hamburger."

Chips was honorably discharged from the Army and it's said he returned home to New York, but died only 7 months later as a result of injuries sustained during his tour, he was six years old.

Like so many other war heroes, Chips has been forever immortalized in a novel based on his life, Chips The War Dog and in a made-for-TV movie which premiered on the Disney channel in 1990 by the same name.  

U.S. Army Signal Corps

The Best Defense

Team Rubicon: A private sector approach to disaster relief in Haiti

Here's an interesting piece by the eight original members of Team Rubicon, a private disaster response outfit. Their description of what they do reminds me of Halo Trust, the mine removal charity -- small, and aiming to use local workers as much as possible. In this case, they seem to be using the cohesiveness and skills they learned in the Marines as the core of their culture. I like how they used that background to deliver medical care.   

Please do read it.

The writers are: "Marines Jake Wood and William McNulty, Doctors David Griswell and Eduardo Dolhun, Firefighters Jeff Lang and Craig Parello, Physician's Assistant Mark Hayward and Brother Jim Boynton S.J."

In the immediate aftermath of the nearly complete physical and functional collapse of Haiti, a small group of trained and determined individuals began to coalesce with the intention of bringing their capabilities directly to the Haitian people in their moment of extremity. At every turn, big aid organizations not only rejected our team's offers of assistance, but even attempted to dissuade us from going to render assistance in Port au Prince. With creativity and conviction, Team Rubicon, as we came to be called, found a way to put our original eight members into the devastated city, found a partner eager for our helping hands, and found that, contrary to everything the big aid bureaucracies were saying, small and skilled teams of military combat veterans and seasoned first responders were exactly what could render immediate, life-saving assistance in this situation.

Team Rubicon was self-financed -- and it did not take all that much money to put our initial plans into action. Rather than wait for every possible contingency to be addressed, we constantly moved forward, while still developing the specifics of our mission. Nearly all of our meetings and conferences, our consultations with people of experience in different fields, our fund-raising and our communication with supporters, took place in cyberspace, in real time and with instant results.

Team Rubicon's experience has presented a new template which should be carefully considered by disaster relief organizations: discrete, semi-autonomous teams of cross-trained individuals can render emergency medical care, and provide invaluable "medical intelligence." We overcame the chaos and lack of access to resources by going directly to the refugee camps, treating most problems on-site, and evacuating complex cases to surgical care. By a process of total immersion, we acquired local assets and worked with local residents to help mitigate potential security situations in their neighborhoods and help navigate through their own demolished city. By this act of partnering with the people we were there to aid, we began the work of helping the Haitian people to rebuild their lives, not become dependant on some truly foreign organization.

In the last ten years, the American armed forces have talked about transformation into smaller, lighter, more rapidly deployed units. It should come as no surprise that those of us who put together Team Rubicon were products of the Marine Corps, America's original expeditionary force; and our initiative appealed immediately to other former military medics and personnel. In essence, what Team Rubicon represents, then, is the kind of new and innovative thinking the U.S. military has been attempting to apply to its own operations.

Team Rubicon's approach, and its success, should alert the big aid organizations that a new paradigm for effective disaster relief has developed. Time and again, we discovered that the big aid organizations were encumbered by inefficient operations, poor and inaccurate information, and an inherently risk-averse mentality. In this context, risk-averse becomes service-averse, because when minutes and hours count, there is no time for lengthy debates about exposure to liability. We accepted a certain level of inherent risk and acted swiftly. We did not wait for circumstances to become ideal.

Grossly sensationalistic and, in some cases, patently deceptive media reports did not help the big aid organizations overcome their institutional inertia. We prepared to protect our medical care-providers from physical violence, but we found none. Once on the ground, we were able to develop a valid situation assessment that allowed us to discount the dire picture the media was painting. If the big aid organizations had this kind of ability to insert trained personnel into the field rapidly, they too could have realized that the truth of the matter in Port au Prince was very different from what the broadcast media was selling.

Yet, above all, the paradigm shift that Team Rubicon represents is a movement entirely away from bureaucracy. The big aid organizations are burdened with multiple layers of middle management that stifle creativity and innovation. The big aid organizations have ample supplies but are shockingly slow to dispense them, if only because the bureaucratic processes and paperwork take precedence over making a rapid first response. We rejected the big aid organizations' vertical decision making model, and created a horizontal, cellular model, whereby individual teams have been given autonomy to operate according to their own discretion.

This is not to say that there is no place for big aid organizations, both governmental and non-governmental. It is, however, to sound a clarion call for a reworking of how such organizations find the right people and put the right people into the field in time to do the most good. In truth, we on Team Rubicon could not have done what good we did in our corner of Port au Prince had it not been for a very big and very old international aid organization -- the Jesuits.

When all the other big aid organizations rejected our offers of assistance, the Jesuits welcomed them eagerly. We picked up our Jesuit contact in Santo Domingo, and he led us across the border into Haiti. The Jesuits housed Team Rubicon in their novitiate in Port au Prince and provided us with the shelter, food, and water necessary to carry out our mission. The critical difference between the Jesuits' approach and that of the big aid organizations, is that the Jesuits work in small numbers, living in the areas affected, working as partners with the people in need, and encouraging individual initiative on the part of team members.

The original eight members of Team Rubicon, save for the Jesuit who stayed behind in Port au Prince, are all back in the United States now, having returned to our regular lives as firefighters, general practitioners, and businessmen. Over the internet, new volunteers made contact and made plans to replace the original eight, in even greater numbers. And though Team Rubicon's work has discontinued in Haiti, our experience serves as a new model to bridge the critical time gap between large natural disasters and conventional aid response.